7 July 2008

Back Home

So I made it safely back home to London after a couple of days on the beers with my Dad up the Oregon Coast and in Portland and after no sleep for 24 hours walked jet-lagged into a delightful welcome home/30th birthday party.

A few weeks later after a bout of flu, several heavy drinking sessions, 2 day long music festivals and a Ben Folds concert I thought it would be good to collect my thoughts on the trip and hopefully offer some tips to future riders who stumble across this blog (I have already met one chap who is going to take it on next April)!

I'm not the kind of person who needs to "find" themself and so this trip was never about getting to know the inner me or any of that new age nonsense. It was first and foremost a physical challenge and to that end it was a success. I found that once I was past the Ozarks and into Kansas, the physical side was no longer a problem as by that stage your body knows what is expected of it and just knuckles down to the job. The toughest physical aspect of the trip was definitely the first 2 weeks or so. No matter how much training you do, you can't realistically get yourself ready for the daily grind of 60-80 miles each day in blazing sunshine then pouring rain straight afterwards topped off with a ropey night under the stars!

Mentally, there were some tough elements since the hills and the wind really get you down, particularly when thrown together. Again, you can get used to the hills since they are clearly of a finite length but when you are being battered backwards by wind and driving rain, you definitely contemplate stopping 5 miles into the day and going back to bed! I suppose that all you can do is what I did do, and just get your head down and keep pedalling and hopefully other riders won't get as rotten weather as I had this year! I found that i helped so much having a daily goal to aim towards in terms of mileage as without this it would be so easy to do short days not out of necessity but out of laziness when your body pretends it is more tired than it really is!

I met some great people along the way, both fellow cyclists and saner normal local people in the various towns I passed through and 99% of these folks were hospitable and welcoming. I never felt in any physical danger and rarely locked my bike up either at night or during day stops, and when I did, I just used the world's smallest lock. I wouldn't recommend taking anything other than a lightweight bikelock as some people I met were carrying absolute beasts that could secure a building but just weren't necessary.

I can't call my favourite state overall, as it is probably a 3 way tie between Kansas, Colorado and Montana. This is partially influenced by the weather since Oregon looked lovely on my last day but was cold and wet for the rest of the time, and the same applies to Idaho and Wyoming which didn't get a fair crack of the whip. Colorado was truly stunning with the best scenery I have seen all around me, Montana rode really well and had a great mix of snowy mountains and sunny meadows, whilst Kansas was just nice and flat and I had a lot of fun going through it!

Finally, I just wanted to mention kit. This post gave an overview of the equipment I took with me, but eagle eyed readers will have noted that I ditched a lot of this along the way as it was just too heavy and I didn't need half of it. I kept all of my tools, but luckily only needed my puncture repair kit but perhaps if I was going through a country with fewer bike shops then I wouldn't have got my 1000 mile services.

I won't go through all my clothing, but in summary, I had way too much. I survived with one pair of casual shorts and a casual shirt, 2 cycling tops, 2 nike under tops, one long sleeved top, 2 lycra shorts and some socks and boxers. There were plenty of laundromats or just sinks to do handwashing in, so this was plenty. I'm pretty sure I could have squeezed all my stuff into my back panniers and done without the front ones but it was nice to have the spare space to store food and water along the way, as well as books and various bits of junk I picked up!

My tent was great and my sleeping bag was more than enough to keep me warm since I didn't camp out in the coldest parts of the mountains, so I could probably have taken a lighter one but it was good to know that I could sleep just about anywhere with the equipment I had. I didn't miss not having a stove since there were cheap diners everywhere and I would rather pay 5 bucks and have dinner cooked for me than struggle in the wet with a gas burner.

Beyond that, I can look back on a fantastic adventure with memories to last a lifetime, or at least until Alzheimers kicks in, but if anyone wants any tips or advice then feel free to drop me a mail on the address on the front page, and hopefully I will see you on the road!

11 June 2008


It is Tuesday evening and I have left my trusty bike with the guys at Newport Cycles, who are going to box it up in preparation for my flight home on Friday. I have had 2 lazy days since finishing the TransAmerica Trail on Sunday and ridden a grand total of 50 miles up the Oregon coastline. I would have gone further but the weather has been rotten with more wind and rain and so since I have completed the ride, I seem to lack the motivation to pedal for hours whilst getting drenched, just for the sake of some sightseeing. My dad is flying in tomorrow morning and the current plan is to hit this brewery a mile or two from the hotel, then head to Portland on Thursday to try some of the local micro-breweries so things are looking up!

I wanted to take use this post to thank everyone who in various ways have made this trip possible, easier, and worthwhile.

Firstly thanks to Matt Benkert who put the silly idea of riding across America into my head, and then answered an endless chain of e-mails about what to bring, what training to do, and how to avoid rednecks. I am meeting with two potential TransAmerica Cyclists on my return to England and hopefully I can pass the baton on to them!

Thanks to Amy for letting me abandon her and Scruff for two months without too many complaints and for putting up with the worry when I vanished off the radar for a few days somewhere in the mountains of Colorado!

Thanks to Larry, Julie, Bob, Chris, Carl, and Dave for the great company and companionship whilst riding and for giving me a varied range of targets to catch up with along the way as well as for keeping me cheerful on the tough days.

Thanks to all of the kind people who helped me along the way with food, water, shelter and most of all words of encouragement and support as I passed through their towns and farms. A more organised system of support for touring cyclists is taking shape at www.warmshowers.org so if anyone here is willing to offer a garden to pitch a tent in or a hot meal and a shower then do sign up!

Thanks in particular to everyone who has donated to the NACC over the last two months since we have raised over $5000 (I can't find the pound sign on this US keyboard) which makes the trip a lot more worthwhile than was first intended.

Finally, thanks to everybody who has been reading this blog as it has been encouraging to have an audience for what on some days were just moans about the weather. I was amazed to find that through the trip the blog recorded over 1250 unique visitors with a high of 370 individuals reading it one one day and an average of around 60 people a day.

I am still hoping to do a post-mortem on the trip once I am back in England next week but for now, thanks once again!

9 June 2008

Job Done

I spent the evening in Eugene finishing uploading my photos, and then watching a couple of bands at a local open air gig. I was up early in order to finish off the final 78 miles to the coast.

The hotel had a pretty solid continental breakfast so I was fed and on the road by half seven with a brilliant 5.5 mile bike path leading out of town to the west. The ride was one of the nicest I have had on this trip with one small hill interrupting a lovely downhill it was easy going with no wind, no rain and great sunshine. It was cool to have such nice weather for the last day's ride and I finally got to have a rain free look at Oregon's countryside which was really scenic with miles of trees lining the roads.

Along the way I met Anthony, Aaron and Peter riding from California across the States, and then a few miles later came across Jim Craven, a maths teacher from Cincinatti Ohio. Jim was on a funky recumbent bike which looked comfy but must have been a killer on the hills with the riding position restricting the power you can generate. Next up was a fellow Londoner, Toby from Tottenham. Toby is riding from Seattle to Virginia and being a teacher he managed to skip school for the last half of summer term!

Leaving these chaps behind I continued on the leisurely roll downhill in glorious sunshine and stopped for lunch 15 miles from the sea at a cool train themed cafe which served a mean club sandwich and fries. The road from here was a bit more hairy as it became the 126, the main highway into town with a rough broken shoulder and loads of traffic.

Soon after 3pm I passed into Florence, met Dave at his hotel and unloaded all of my gear from the bike before the 6 mile pedal through town to get to the beach to dip my front tire in the Pacific having set off with my back tire in the Atlantic 55 days ago. By the time I had carried my sand coated bike back from the surf I was knackered and so slowly rode past some Tsunami warning signs back to the Lighthouse Motel, for some beers which had been 5 months in the waiting!

My plan from here is to ride a few miles up the coast towards Pacific City depending on the weather which is set to rain again apparently, then on Wednesday I am meeting my dad for some beers when he flies in from New Jersey via California. I guess I will collect my thoughts in the next few days but for now I am both relieved and happy to have made it across the country but equally I know I am going to miss the new sights each day and the challenges of the trip.

7 June 2008


I managed to get 11 hours sleep last night despite what was all in all a crappy hotel. The Americans have a great expression, "Nickel and Dimed" meaning when someone screws you on the small things and is trying to squeeze cash out of you. There have been a few places on this trip where I have felt I have been screwed, be it a restaurant in the middle of nowhere asking for $5 to use their wireless when I had already spent $20 on a meal or a shopkeeper asking for a dollar just to fill up with tap water. Last night, I got a room with no heater, rubbish bed lined, and no tv or wifi which was directly above the bar so I had a load of drunken noise coming from there until after 11. This wouldn't be a terrible thing but I got the impression that the slightly high room price was made up on the spot when I arrived and the owner calculated the price that a cold and wet cyclist would pay for a dry room! This kind of slyness is a real shame and hopefully in the long run does them no favours as cyclists along the route recommend hotels and campsites to each other and equally will warn each other off these bad places.

That aside, I set off mid morning into a clear blue sky which soon enough saw me coming and switched to clouds and rain but I notched up 15 miles and got some breakfast down the road which filled me nicely. 15 miles later along a pretty busy and scary 126 highway (I took this rather than the more circuitous route by mistake)and I was into Eugene an hour too late to catch the "Global Naked Bike Ride" that was in town apparently!

I chilled in town for a while before heading to an internet cafe to begin uploading my photos from the trip that haven't made it on yet, then took a break to get a hotel and look around town. Eugene is the biggest stop on the route at about 130,000 population and it appears to be a mecca for the 'alternative community'. Town was filled with tattoos, piercings and general scabby looking folk in need of showers but it did give the place a relaxed hippy kind of vibe. The photos up top were in the middle of the town where some kind of bongo and flute playing improv session was going on with a pretty strong whiff of dope!

I finished uploading my photos so we should have a full set from Day One of the trip now. I realised that I could just switch my memory card from the first camera into the second to get those photos before I went home and it did the job so enjoy!
I am 78 miles from the coast and will probably head over there tomorrow depending on how this evening goes as there are some bands on in the town centre that I might go and catch but I it is nice to have time on my side for a change!

Also, if you haven't got around to donating to the NACC, then please do go to www.justgiving.com/transamerica as they are a great cause and could use all the help they can get!

6 June 2008

McKenzie River Pirates

My night in a wet tent was pretty restless as I seemed to wake every half hour in anticipation of the morning when I would have to find a gap in the rain to evacuate my kit and pack up. It seemed to be pouring whenever I woke so around 5am I made a dash for it and bagged everything up as best I could and headed for the main lodge.

Sadly the warm dry lodge didn't open until 9 so I sat outside waiting for someone to leave so I could get in. By half seven Dave had hit the road as he wasn't up for rafting and a few minutes later someone left the lodge so I grabbed a seat and dried off a bit. I spent a while chatting to Gary from last night who it turns out is a teacher back home, then by half eight he set off to do the reverse of our previous day's work.

I hooked up with some fellow rafters, Mark and Shirl from Kansas and Mark's sister Diana and her husband Tom from Indiana and soon enough we were getting kitted up for the river as in the photo. I decided to leave my camera behind on the advice of our rafting guide since I didn't want to lose all my trip photos and we were soon 7 miles upstream climbing into our raft! The 2-3 hours down the river was cold, wet, exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure as I was sat up front with Mark setting the oar pace for the others and getting the full force of the class IV rapids! This was a cool excursion and well worth it despite the shivering, bone chilling cold on the way back to the lodge which was fixed by a change of clothes and some hot food!

Once I was bored of being warm and dry I set off towards Eugene, sixty miles away, in the pouring rain and biting wind. After nearly two hours I decided to stop half way along since I have time to play with and was bored of being drenched again. There was a motel on the map about 28 miles from Eugene so I checked in there and one steak supper later am in my room drying off various bits of tent and clothing. I am planning a huge lie in tomorrow which probably means I will wake at 5 as normal but I only have about 30-40 miles on the cards for Saturday so I can take it easy all day!

5 June 2008

Cold and wet but progressing

It was pretty chilly overnight so I didn't sleep the best and was up and packed before Dave surfaced for once. We set a 30 mile target as the price of breakfast and were soon coasting into the first town of Prineville where my iPhone came to life. It picked up signal for the first time since early Colorado and so a flood of texts came through. I guess you don't use AT&T if you live out west!

Despite being forewarned I managed to misread the map leaving town so saved us 3 miles but it meant riding on a horrendously busy highway with very little shoulder. We entered Redmond from a different location than expected and so after navigating some roadworks ended up in the Hispanic end of town with lots of Taco joints to choose from for breakfast. Eventually I found the Black Bear Restaurant which dished up 'The Grizz', a huge feast for $10 although I was stung five bucks for an OJ.

I have been sneakily pushing Dave to do more miles each day (I squeezed 22 extras out of him yesterday) and his original plan had us stopping 19 miles down the road at the town of Sisters today. Since we were on course to get there by 11am we agreed to have a stab at Santiam Pass, the alternative route to Mckensie Pass which was closed by snow.

We stopped in Sisters Library to check mail and met Tom Perry from Knoxville Tennessee who was a few days into his eastbound ride. We left him in fine spirits as he went to meet another rider who had emailed him and was also in town!

The climb up the pass was 19 mile of which 12 were gentle and 7 steep. At 10 miles in the temperature began to drop and the rain started up to accompany the headwind so I put my head down and just worked the hill like a machine. I made the top soon enough but had a twenty minute wait for Dave who climbs a bit slower than me and I started to freeze on the exposed hilltop. I added some layers and we began the descent in driving rain, and I'm not ashamed to say I nearly wet myself. I was riding my brakes but still going about 25mph when a huge logging truck and a big gust of wind combined to fling my bike about, well out of my control for a couple of seconds. I didn't come off or get sucked in by the truck but I was sufficiently scared to grab an extended breather at the next layby!

The next dozen miles were freezing cold with the rain obscuring some nice scenery from what I could see, and eventually it slowed to a light shower and the elevation reduced to a warmer level. We had hoped to stay at a campsite near the pass but the rain convinced us to ride on until we found somewhere dry to pitch up. 98 miles in to the ride and we pulled up at the Belknap Lodge and campsite where we decided to call it a day. Rooms were too pricey since I have spent a small fortune so far this trip and so we opted for the $20 camping option.

The incredibly slow woman at the front desk gave us a map to the camping which was clearly drawn by Stevie Wonder as it bore no relation to reality and so Dave and I were hunting through a thick forest for ages! When we finally chanced upon the appropriate clearings, the rain started up again and I rushed to pitch the tent before it got drenched. Joyfully I chose this moment to combine clumsiness with a mind blank and I was unable to get the tent up for ages! By the time I made it work, it was soaked inside so I just chucked all my bags in and swore my way upto the lodge for a shower.

At the lodge were 3 more cyclists headed East, Brian and Molly from Portland and Gary Hicklin from Virginia. We chatted a while then I showered, caught up on email and booked myself in for whitewater rafting tomorrow morning with a firm that picks up from the lodge. Having seen how high the river was today, it should be quite a ride tomorrow. I'm heading back to my wet tent now for what looks to be a damp night's sleep!

4 June 2008

Mountain Men

Yesterday at the church was cool, getting all of my laundry done, drying my tent out from the previous night and meeting Ted and the gang. The computer was on dialup internet which was a shame as I wanted to upload a few photos but should get a chance at the weekend. For dinner we walked down to the only restaurant in town and the fools offered us all you can eat tacos for $6.95 which we gladly accepted and we certainly got our money's worth with about ten each. Once Ted, Ian and Nikki got back from Ted's ride I played frisbee with his dog, Angie, before getting an early night ahead of today's climbs.

Dave and I were up, showered, packed and out by half six and hungrily set off since there was nowhere in town open til 11 and nowhere on route for 40 miles. The morning session was an absolute bigger with 32 miles of constant climbing into an incessant head wind that kept you at 6 or 7 mph. It was understandably slow going and my frustration mounted every time I clicked through on my speedometer to check the mileage only to find I had travelled about 2 metres forwards.

One redeeming factor in the morning ride was the scenery as we were riding through the John Day Fossil Beds. This now arid area used to be a tropical jungle back in the olden days and was inhabited by rhinos, sabre-toothed tigers and giant sloths, fossils of which can be found today.

Near the top of the hill I met a father/son combo who were riding do Idaho with all of their kit being driven by mum but I didn't catch their names before finishing the climb and a 7 mile descent into the town of Mitchell.

This old mining town has had it hard since it began as a trading station, with two huge floods and a fire destroying 90% of it over the years. I waited 15 minutes or so for Dave to cone down off the pass then we ate well at a small cafe on the outskirts of town where there was a grumpy cyclist from Vancouver going to Ohio who wasn't up for much chat.

Having won the endurance contest against Keyes Creek Pass, we had the shorter but steeper 16 mile, 2500 foot climb up Ochoco Pass next. Our ascent stopped after about half a mile as my bike's handling worsened and I could tell we had puncture problems again.

It was the back tire but I made surprisingly light work of it and with a hand from Dave, was back on the road in about 15 minutes! A mile or so later we met Slade Bradbury from Colorado Springs who had a racing bike with trailer and was going from West to East. He was a great chap and should make good time with his light set up so we recommended the Dayville Church and carried on upwards.

We stopped a few miles further when I spotted a rattlesnake by the road and the little chap was both alive and active! He gave us a little rattle and posed for some photos before skulking off into the bushes.

The rest of the climb was steep but bearable since only the last 7 miles were granny gear material and soon enough I was relaxing at the top snacking and returning waves from drivers whilst waiting for Dave.

From there we had a 22 mile downhill that took us to Ochoco Lake Country Park (the lake is in the top photo) where we are camping for the princely sum of five bucks! Dave cooked a mean bowl of Ramen Noodles whilst I repaired the inner tube from earlier and it is now time for a trip to the land of nod as there are big riding plans for tomorrow.

3 June 2008

God Rocks

I was asleep by half 8 last night, cosied up in my tent, and woke at about 1am to the sound of heavy rain again! By the morning it had stopped long enough to put the tent away and get on the road in order to finish off the 3 peaks with a quick ascent of Dixie Peak. It really helped not having the sun overhead, and we were at the summit in no time without any stops on the way up.

There was a 7 mile downhill from there, with a short break at a lookout point over Strawberry Mountain which was great seeing the mountain top encased in morning mist. The town of Dixie City at the bottom of the hill was pretty quiet and its 2 restaurants were both closed which was most annoying since there were two hungry Englishmen outside and the rain had started up with some gusto.

There was nothing to do but get through the next 13 miles to the town of John Day and we aced this section in well under an hour, arriving dripping wet but eager for feeding. $7.99 bought a huge breakfast with pretty much everything on the plate from bacon and eggs to sausages, hash browns and pancakes and we tucked in heartily! From here we had to make a couple of stops around town for the post office so Dave could send some stuff home, and I had to go to an office supplies store where the lovely Vanessa let me use their computer to type a reference letter and then fax it back to London. One more stop at the post office to send the hard copy of that letter and a quick phone call home for both of us (Dave's call was answered by his daughter Amy and I think he had tears in his eyes afterwards) and we were hot on the trail of the final 30 miles to Dayville.

7 miles in and a garage beckoned us to eat their fresh cookies which we willingly did, and then we braved the rain again for the last 20 or so miles. All was well and we were averaging 15 mph despite the rotten weather, when we hit some unmanned roadworks where there was basically 3 miles of gravel on our side of the road. This dragged the pace down below 10mph and it was like riding through wet sand so I skipped into the left hand lane since there was no traffic as far as the eye could see. Eventually we got through this joke of a road and soon pulled into Dayville.

In Dayville is the local Presbyterian Church which is well known amongst cross country cyclists for putting riders up for the night. They have a washing machine and dryer, hot showers, dial up internet and a kitchen so you can make yourself at home here - as I am doing now. When we got here there were 3 people already encamped in the church hall and they are fellow cyclists (well one of them is at least).

Ted Schneck is a marketing executive from Oregon and he is riding across the country to raise money for dogs with cancer - www.DogCancerRide.com - which is a great cause by the sounds of it! Ted has two friends with him, Ian and Nikki, who are running a pretty hi-tech media operation with video, photos, blog and lots of other funky stuff and they are hoping to both raise a lot of money for Dog Cancer Treatment, and to raise awareness of the cause through local media across the country. Ian and Nikki are driving a car/jeep and carry Ted's equipment for him and they are just getting used to the day to day process of hotels/hostels/possibly future camping as they move along the route.

I have a load of washing in the machine whilst drying out my tent from last night, and am going to grab some food in town soon before hitting the hay pretty early tonight in advance of a beast of a hilly ride tomorrow.